Christopher Robin (2018)
Christopher Robin is very bearable. It fights the good fight to keep whimsy alive.
In 2018, irony is defunct, truth is irrelevant, and whimsy is on life support. It's up to the irrepressible bear to keep its honeyed breath going. Welcome back, Winnie-the-Pooh.
Christopher Robin is the generic tale of how a businessman loses his imagination and is jolted back to life. Not exactly a fresh plot. But Pooh and Christopher prevail.
Christopher (Ewan McGregor) returns from World War II, joins the business world, and becomes an efficiency manager at a luggage company. In the process he sacrifices his personal life with his wife (Hayley Atwell) and daughter (Bronte Carmichael). It's up to Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) and his pals to bring him back to life worth living, not just life worth a salary.
Pooh joins Christopher in London and seeks his help to find his friends who have disappeared in Hundred Acre Wood. In their search, Christopher ultimately finds himself. And his family.
Disney licensed the rights to Winnie-the-Pooh 57 years ago, in 1961. It's been a long relationship. Christopher Robin, directed winsomely by Marc Forster, has its charms, but one wonders how well it will translate to an international audience. Most films today are made with the foreign market as a primary target, but obviously Christopher Robin has major limitations in that regard. One of its assets is language, but that doesn't travel as well as explosions.
Pooh has a big heart, but so does actor Ewan McGregor. [He has participated in the work of UNICEF to improve living conditions and quality of life of children internationally.] He is gifted with a boyish quality, and brings credibility to the film in his relationship with the plump bear.
The screenplay isn't always equal to the actors. It's a bit clunky to have the adult Christopher so lacking in imagination. At bedtime, when Christopher reads his daughter from an adult book of history, it's a book too far.
But the film does promote language, and Pooh speaks his patented wisdom.
I was glad to see that Tom McCarthy was listed among the credits as one of the film's writers. Reportedly the first draft, using the characters created by A.A. Milne, was written by Alex Ross Perry. Tom McCarthy was brought in to restructure the screenplay, and Allison Schroeder, who co-wrote Hidden Figures (2017), was a second additional writer.
McCarthy, one of my favorite auteurs, wrote and directed some of the best low-key, personal films in the last two decades: The Station Agent (2003), The Visitor (2007), Win Win (2011), and Spotlight (2015). McCarthy, with Josh Singer, won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Spotlight. The film also won the Oscar for Best Picture, but Alejandro G. Inarritu won the Oscar for directing Revenant.
McCarthy's humanism surely helped Christopher Robin. But despite his values, McCarthy seems to have left his Hundred Acre Farm behind and joined a big baggage company like Disney.
In Christopher Robin is Winnie-the-Pooh trying to tell director/writer Tom McCarthy to get back to his intimate roots?
Disney is fortunate to have Christopher Robin's, Pooh's, and Tom McCarthy's humanism.